Outdoor Cèilidh in the Time of Covid

Words by Penny Neef.
Image courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival continues the quest for safe, live performances this fall, while the weather is still cooperative in Hampton Roads. There is a charming Courtyard directly behind the VAF’s Clay and Jay Barr Education Center on Bank Street in downtown Norfolk.

On Saturday, October 10, the VAF and the Virginia International Tattoo will present Courtyard Cèilidh on the outdoor stage in the Courtyard. 

What is a Cèilidh, you might ask? How do you even say it? Cèilidh is pronounced Kay-Lee. It is a traditional Gaelic party that would include poetry, storytelling Celtic music and dancing. It translates from the Old Irish as “companion visit”. There are not a lot of parties and companion visits going on these days, but VAF is able to keep family groups apart, sanitize, limit the number of tickets sold, and provide lots of fresh air to keep it as safe as possible.

Performers will include Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance, US National champion Scottish fiddlers Seán Heely and Colin McGlynn, and Tidewater Pipes and Drums.

Chris Pearcy, the Pipe Major of Tidewater Pipes and Drums calls the Courtyard Cèilidh, a “mini Tattoo”. If you’ve never attended the Virginia International Tattoo in the spring as part of the Virginia Arts Festival, you have missed something spectacular. A Tattoo is a large gathering of military bands. The Virginia International Tattoo brings bands from across the world to Scope Arena each year for the largest Tattoo in North America. 

Here are the Massed Pipes and Drums of the 2019 Tattoo

Pearcy will be bringing 10 bagpipers and 8 drummers to the small stage in the Courtyard. Ten pipers are still a big sound. 

Tidewater Pipes and Drums are one of the original bands of the Virginia International Tattoo. They perform at Scope each year. Pearcy says they love meeting and performing with other pipe bands from around the world. They were disappointed when Covid forced VAF to cancel the Tattoo this year, but the pandemic also made Pearcy’s group “realize how much they missed practicing together and playing together”.

In March, April and May, the band did one-on-one work with technique and expression through Zoom calls. Pearcy is also a professor at ODU, teaching mostly European history to freshmen. He worried at the beginning of the pandemic that the members of Tidewater Pipes and Drums would lose their skills.

By the time June rolled around, the band was “itching to get out there and do something together”. They began practicing outdoors and 6 feet apart. Pearcy was thrilled that “people did not forget how to play.” In fact, they were better than ever. “Covid has been a big rebuilding phase for our group,” Peacy says, “We sound like one great, big bagpipe.” That’s a good thing, if you’re a pipe and drum group.

October 10th will be the group’s first time performing together since St. Patrick’s Day, oh so long ago. Even though the Courtyard Cèilidh will be barely 1/100th of the size of the “big” Tattoo, it will still be great to hear the sounds of the bagpipes, Scottish fiddles and see the high stepping of Rhodes Academy of Irish Dance.

Jazz in a Physically Distant World

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Virginia Arts Festival’s Fall Arts Celebration Concerts are sold out. Tickets were very limited. There are COVID restrictions and COVID precautions, but the swift sale of tickets for this concert series in the Courtyard behind the VAF headquarters on Bank Street also demonstrates some things – 

  • VAF has a loyal fan base who love and appreciate what they do for our community.
  • People are starved for live music.
  • We should celebrate (with precautions) the tiny baby steps towards normalcy.
  • We (maybe just me?) need to realize that life as we used to know it may never return. (Ed. note- I don’t think it’s just you, Penny!)
  • Human beings are capable of great creativity, flexibility and beauty when backed into a Covid corner.
  • Music and the arts are something we can’t live without.

I spoke with John Toomey last week. Toomey is the lead in the John Toomey Quartet, playing this Saturday, October 3 in the Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street behind the Clay & Jay Barr Education Center of the VAF. 

Toomey also curates, directs and performs at the VAF’s Attucks Jazz Club, upstairs in the historic Attucks Theatre and is a Professor of Music at ODU.

Toomey is unfazed about performing outdoors. “If the weather is cooperative and there is a good sound system, it will be great.” He should know. He’s performed outdoors at the Newport Jazz Festival with Maynard Ferguson and other big outdoor jazz festivals around the world.

Toomey prefers the intimacy of a “small” venue, like the upstairs room at the Attucks Theatre. That room holds 130 people. The Outdoor Courtyard will be limited to about 50 people, who will be spread out in socially distant groups. 

A view of the stage for the Fall Music Celebration, You can see the audience seated in a socially distant manner in the mid-ground.

On a side note, and my own personal rant: I prefer the term physically distant. We are social beings. Circumstances dictate a minimum of 6 feet between us, but we can still be social. Attending a live concert together is a social event, even if the audience is limited and we’re sitting far apart. We’re sharing the experience. That experience on Saturday will be jazz.

Toomey will be on piano. His great friends and fellow musicians Jimmy Masters on bass, Brian Caputo on drums, and Eddie Williams on sax make up the John Toomey Quartet. Toomey says there will be some standards and some “unique pieces”.

These men are seasoned musicians and have played together many times. They don’t need much rehearsal. “The nature of jazz is improvisation. We can improvise while we’re 6 feet apart.”

Keep an eye on the VAF’s website. They are working hard to keep the arts alive, in a physically distant and safe way, in Hampton Roads. 

Fall Arts Celebration Concerts begin September 25

Words courtesy of Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival.

I’ve tried. I’ve really tried, but virtual concerts or live Zoom concerts or concerts that you watch on your big screen TV are just not the same as being right there in front of musicians who are pouring their heart and soul into the music. That is why I am so happy that Virginia Arts Festival is beginning a series of Fall Arts Celebration Concerts this Friday, September 25 in their own Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street.

First up is classical. Musicians Debra Wendells Cross, flute, and Elizabeth Coulter Vonderheide, violin, join violist Luke Fleming and cellist Jake Fowler for an evening of chamber music under the stars. 

The Outdoor Courtyard is a lovely venue, full of fresh air. It is not heated or air conditioned, so dress appropriately. Tickets will be limited. Each party will enter together, and be seated together, allowing six feet of distance from other parties. All CDC guidelines and sanitation procedures will be followed.

For Debra Cross, Principal Flute for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and flute instructor at ODU, the biggest challenge will be the wind. “It’s a challenge to play outdoors. We have special music stands with clips so the music doesn’t fly away.” She has enjoyed many virtual concerts during this pandemic but agrees that “virtual is just not the same.” 

Cross and the three string musicians in this chamber music quartet will be playing Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart. In the Mozart piece, Cross’ flute substitutes for the violin in a beautiful arrangement.

Barbara Chapman and Debra Cross in front of Barb's harp
Barbara Chapman, harp and Debra Cross, flute

Debra Cross will be making another live appearance in the VAF’s Outdoor Courtyard on Wednesday, October 7 at 10:30 am for Morning Chamber Music. Cross will be joined by harpist Barbara Chapman. Cross and Chapman will be playing “all sorts of things”. There will be classical pieces, but also folk and Latin music. They will perform together and each will perform a solo piece.

Rob Cross, VAF’s Perry Artistic Director, knows that we are all missing live performances of great music. He says, “We wanted to offer this safe opportunity to folks who are craving the satisfaction that only a live performance can bring.”

 Check the Virginia Arts Festival website for information about more live events coming up and information about how you can support the arts in our community – https://www.vafest.org

Virginia Arts Festival Announces Fall Arts Celebration Concerts

September 25-October 17 in the Festival’s Outdoor Courtyard

Words and Images courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival.

Virginia Arts Festival will present a series of outdoor concerts this fall in its Outdoor Courtyard at 440 Bank Street, Clay & Jay Barr Education Center, Norfolk. The series will feature classical and jazz concerts, at both evening and morning times, and will feature some of the region’s most gifted artists.

“Since the restrictions surrounding COVID-19, we have heard from many fans how much they miss live performances of great music, and we wanted to offer this safe opportunity to folks who are craving the satisfaction that only a live performance can bring.” said the Festival’s Perry Artistic Director Robert W. Cross. “These concerts, with safe, socially distanced seating outdoors will offer great opportunities to hear the music you love performed by top artists.”

The Courtyard at Virginia Arts Festival, with grass and pavers. The Hurrah Players building, white with columns, is in the background, and between the two you can see a stage has been constructed.

The Fall Arts Celebration series begins September 25 and includes the following programs:

Evening Chamber Music
Friday, September 25, 2020 at 6pm (Rain date September 26)
For classical music lovers, the series starts off with a great evening of chamber music, featuring the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players Debra Wendells Cross, flute; Elizabeth Coulter Vonderheide, violin; Luke Fleming, viola; and Jake Fowler, cello; for a program including the Haydn Flute Trio No. 1 in C major, Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Op. 9, No. 3, and Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major, K.285.

Courtyard Jazz – John Toomey Quartet
Saturday, October 3, 2020 at 5pm (Rain date October 4)
Jazz fans will welcome this Saturday evening concert! Famed for their performances at the Festival’s Attucks Jazz Club, John Toomey and Jimmy Masters will light up the Courtyard with an evening of jazz standards. Featuring John Toomey on piano, Jimmy Masters on bass, Brian Caputo on drums, and Eddie Williams on saxophone.  

Morning Chamber Music
Wednesday, October 7, 2020 at 10:30am (Rain date October 8)
Some of the most devoted fans have enjoyed Virginia Arts Festival Coffee Concerts, morning performances by great artists. This morning outdoor concert features Debra Wendells Cross, flute, and Barbara Chapman, harp, in arrangements of Baroque and Classical sonatas, works of women composers, and traditional folk music with arrangements of “Greensleeves” and “Flow Gently Sweet Afton.”

Courtyard Jazz – Jae Sinnett Trio
Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 5pm (Rain date October 18)
One of the region’s best-known jazz artists is Jae Sinnett, beloved for his performances and recordings, and avidly listened to by thousands of fans in his acclaimed programs on WHRV-FM. For jazz fans looking for a great Saturday night show, this outdoor concert by the Jae Sinnett Trio is just the ticket.

Tickets for the Virginia Arts Festival Fall Arts Celebration concerts are just $20 and are on sale now, online at vafest.org or by phone at 757-282-2822.

About the Virginia Arts Festival 
Since 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival has transformed the cultural scene in southeastern Virginia, presenting great performers from around the world to local audiences and making this historic, recreation-rich region a cultural destination for visitors from across the United States and around the world. As an arts leader, the Festival has brought millions of dollars economic impact to the region and has driven the creation of new arts spaces and opportunities for artists, audiences, and the region’s diverse communities. The Festival has presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres, and regularly commissions new works of music, dance, and theater from some of today’s most influential composers, choreographers and playwrights. The Festival’s arts education programs reach tens of thousands of area schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in-school performances, artists’ residencies, master classes and demonstrations.

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Michelangelo’s Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel: A Different Point of View

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Andrew Cooper, City of Norfolk
(including featured image), and David Neef.

Almost a year ago, pre-pandemic, worry-free, and full of the joy of travel, I was in Rome. Rome was the last stop on our fantastic trip through the gardens of Italy. I’d been to Rome once before, as a poor college student. I walked the circumference of the Vatican, but only had enough money to do everything free. This time, I was determined to see inside the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. More about that later. 

This year, no travel, lots of worries, no Rome, but the magnificent art of the Sistine Chapel is right here, in Norfolk, at the MacArthur Mall. The Virginia Arts Festival and MacArthur Mall are co-presenting Michelangelo’s Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel August 7-30.

This is the first complete exhibition of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes to be shown outside the Vatican. The exhibit is officially licensed by the Vatican. Michelangelo’s frescoes have been photographed in high resolution and reproduced in close to life size. The very best part about the exhibit is you can get up close. The details and colors are amazing. The Master’s sketch marks and brush strokes are right there in front of you. The genius of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564) is apparent.

The display of the works on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but recreated on movable exhibits sitting on the floor.
Photo by Andrew Cooper, City of Norfolk.

Back to my trip to Rome, which seems so much longer than a year ago. We booked an evening, after hours “private tour” of the Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel as the grand finale of the tour. I pictured empty galleries with a small group and an Italian art historian pointing out details of the artistic treasures of the Vatican.

What a disappointment. Our “private tour” was one of about a thousand private tours that night. We were herded like cattle through the wonders of the Vatican Museum, with barely enough time to stop and look. The worst of it was the magnificent Sistine Chapel. We were warned before we walked in that there would be no photos and no talking. We were not told that there would be a Vatican guard, standing on a platform in the corner on a microphone, yelling at people if they spoke or heaven forbid, pulled out their phone.

It was so crowded in the Sistine Chapel, that we could not move. We could barely look up to the ceiling 70 feet above us. I had such claustrophobia that I could hardly wait to get out. I saw little and appreciated nothing.

I went to the Sistine Chapel at the mall yesterday. I know, I know, MacArthur Mall is not the Vatican Museum and Norfolk is not Rome, but people, we’re in a pandemic. There was a lot to love. The exhibit is set up in the old Forever 21 store on the second level of the Mall, next to Dillard’s. It’s a pretty space, light and bright, with shiny black and white floors and chandeliers.

There is no guard yelling at you to keep quiet. Instead, you will be greeted by a nice person wearing a mask. There will be a limited number of people allowed in at a time, absolutely no crowd. Your phone will take you straight to a website where you can take your time and read about each panel and piece of the Sistine Chapel artwork. 

A sign at the beginning of the exhibit reading Scna the QR code below for the exhibit reading guide. VAfest/michelangelo/guide.
Photo by Andrew Cooper, City of Norfolk.

You can stand close and be amazed at the details. You can step back and appreciate the dynamics of the piece as a whole. You do not have to crane your neck, squint your eyes and stare up 70 feet. I learned so much more about each story from the Bible that Michelangelo, the “reluctant painter” took on, mostly alone, over the course of more than four years.

This was the first time I’ve been to MacArthur Mall this year. It’s sad that so many stores have closed, but the Mall looks good. There are some bargains to be had if you miss shopping. While you’re there, take a mall walk down to the old entrance to Nordstrom’s and take a selfie in front of the three, fun artworks by Kelsey Montague that the mall commissioned last year.

A woman leaning into a pink background. It looks like she is blowing out air or possibly shouting. On the pink background is a swirl of colors, blue and purple and white and black and green, which appear to have come out of her mouth. #MacArthurCenter #WhatLiftsYou @KelseyMontagueArt
Photo by David Neef

Don’t miss Michelangelo’s Frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. The art is fantastic. You can imagine, just for a few minutes, that you are in Rome, with a much better view of the Sistine Chapel ceiling than anyone except Michelangelo.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.vafest.org/michelangelo/

Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by the Sandler Center Foundation

Virginia Arts Festival

Interview by Denise Bishop.
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival.

This week, Spotlight Saturdays met with Robert W. Cross, Executive Director and Perry Artistic Director of the Virginia Arts Festival. In its 24th year, the Virginia Arts Festival brings world-renowned performers to Hampton Roads for a festival of music, theatre, and dance performances and arts education activities each year in April and May.

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on a program that fulfills your mission statement? 
The mission of the Virginia Arts Festival is to bring world-class performing arts to our citizens and visitors, impact the lives of students through outstanding educational programs, commission new works of national and international significance, and make a tangible difference in Hampton Roads through regional partnerships and cultural tourism.

For programming, we have three or four big areas of focus. One is trying to bring in the really great, big artists from around the world to come to Hampton Roads, creating an opportunity for people who live here to see the best of the best. Also, when it makes sense, we want to showcase local arts organizations and partner with them.  As you know we work with the symphony (Virginia Symphony Orchestra) a lot, the stage company (Virginia Stage Company), the opera (Virginia Opera). We work with a lot of the attractions and museums. Next, almost every artist that comes to the Festival does a workshop, master class, or student matinee. The fourth piece, which is one of the reasons we were formed, is to try to drive tourism in the shoulder season. Trying to create events that will drive people to come out of their homes and visit Hampton Roads in the spring.

Wynton Marsalis plays the trumpet
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis

What or who inspires and influences your work? 
I’m a classical musician [Robert W. Cross is also Principal Percussionist with the VSO], so a large percentage of what the[Virginia Arts] Festival does is classical music. There are certain orchestras that influence me; Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra are the orchestras I grew up with.  For me as a percussionist: the people who were my mentors: John Lindberg [former Principal Timpanist with the VSO] was my teacher when I was a kid, Vic Firth [founder of Vic Firth Company, which makes percussion sticks and mallets] was my teacher when I was away at school, and my colleagues that I’ve been able to work with over the 30 years of my playing career.   

What education programs are offered? 
There are three different levels of engagement for our education programs. First, we offer student matinees where we bus students to the venues to see a performance. Even though these students may not take music or dance classes, they can see great artists and experience that in a real concert setting. Second, we have in-school experiences (lecture-demonstrations or mini-performances), which are a little more in depth, where our artists will go into the schools to work with students.  That might be a little more targeted — they might be doing it for, let’s say it’s Chanticleer, and they’re going in and working with all the vocal students. Or Amani Winds are working with the band students. Or going into a school like Booker T [Washington High School, in Norfolk] that has a dance class, so a student taking dance as an elective gets to work with a young professional dancer or dance instructor. And third, we offer even more in depth master class programs for students who are serious about their craft, whether it’s instrumentalists, singers, or dancers, to work side by side with a really gifted artist such as a workshop for Governor’s School students with a dance master from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important?
There are several other really fantastic performing arts organizations in the community, but I think we’re probably the only one that has a true tourism part of their mission statement and economic development. We really put a lot of thought into how to move the needle for tourism.  And also for economic development, companies use the Festival as a tool when they’re recruiting people to move here. And when an economic development officer goes out to recruit businesses to move to Hampton Roads, the Festival will be in their packets of amenities in the region.

How have you and your staff been handling COVID? What have you been doing during the shutdown? 
COVID came at a really inopportune time for us. Things got shut down around March 12th or 13th, and we were scheduled to start in the middle of April. We had 55 public performances to cancel, and I believe 75 education events scheduled in April and May. It’s a lot harder to unwind the Festival than it is to schedule it. The staff was as busy or busier than we would have been if the Festival was going on because you have to cancel concerts, unravel travel, production, be in touch with ticket-buyers, the halls, our donors, corporate sponsors. Just about this week are we starting to get on the other side.  About half everything we had programmed we were able to reschedule for 2022 or 2023, and then the other half just didn’t make sense to reschedule. They were either time-sensitive or they aren’t available. Now, we’re focusing on: how do we restart? We really are committed to helping the cities reopen when we can, even though it will be outside the Festival period. We’re working particularly with Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and Norfolk on how we can create some concerts and activities as soon as it’s safe to do it again. They just need to get people out going to the restaurants, going to the shops. So, now we feel like we’re in a holding pattern – trying to make good plans and know when we need to activate them. 

How are you helping your staff and artists during this time?
We’re trying to keep morale up because everybody deals with this in a different way, whether you’ve got children or elderly parents. We’re trying to make people feel taken care of, that they still have a job, that they’re safe. For artists, we’ve worked as hard as we could to get as many artists as we could rescheduled because they all need the income. Especially some of the  smaller chamber ensembles or dance groups who have no money coming in.

What’s the biggest change to educational programs?
Right now, we’re working with artists that we have relationships with that have content available online. A lot of the dance companies in particular have been putting out a lot of classes and masterclasses, and we’re sharing that with our schoolteachers and our audience base who are hopefully sharing that with their kids. And then, we’re in the planning phase of figuring out how to deliver content to students this fall. Hopefully, they’ll go back to school in the fall, but I can’t imagine they’ll have much bandwidth for field trips and artists coming to their schools, so how can we deliver content, even when schools start back, especially for the first half of the year.

Mandolin Orange
Mandolin Orange

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time? 
I would say the most encouraging thing is that donors and corporate sponsors that have the ability have really stepped up to help us and other arts organizations through this. There’s so much demand on social services for obvious reasons, but I think people have worked hard to make sure that the performing arts organizations are going to be able to get through this period and be there when we get on the other side of it.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
I think the biggest challenge is uncertainty, in terms of not knowing when we can start back. (Laughing) We’re already rescheduling some things we rescheduled. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and with other big catastrophes, you always feel like you have a beginning, an end, and a recovery. I don’t feel like we’re in recovery yet.

What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”? 
Well, for me, since the orchestra is closed down too, it’s actually been enjoyable to practice when I don’t have any concerts. I’m probably in better shape right now than I am during the season because in the season we could have three different programs in a given week. So, between rehearsals and performances, there’s no time to practice. It’s really fun to walk into practice and say, “What do I want to play today?” I can play scales or I can play all the stuff I haven’t played for 15 years, so that’s kinda fun. Not that I can’t wait to be on stage again actually playing for the public, but it is fun to have a little bit of bandwidth to be in shape and just play for pure enjoyment.

What advice do you have to artists trying to work on their craft? 
We work with a lot of chamber music groups and soloists, and my advice right now as a musician, assuming this could easily go on for another 3 or 6 months or a year, is be creative about how you can deliver content. If we can’t gather for concerts with audiences, you’re going to have to figure out a way to find something that’s engaging. It’s tough – I’ve seen some really, really good stuff out there, but it’s just not the same as being in a concert hall. It can be great playing, but coming through TV speakers or an iPad, it’s just not the same. And for students, this is a gift: they have time right now.  If they’ve got a good teacher, they can get a good lesson online through Zoom. And for people who are serious musicians, in their teens or college age, there is no reason in the world you’re not practicing 4-6 hours a day right now.

What do you need during this time? 
I’d say it’s probably financial, though I’m more worried about next year. This year, we were close enough to the end of the fiscal year and people have stepped up to help us, so we will probably have a small loss but it really won’t be catastrophic. I think next year is going to be even more challenging, financially. Even if we can do concerts, what is the comfort level of the public going to be? Typically in Chrysler Hall we might hope to have 2000 people or in Sandler 1100 people, but if we have to safe-distance, we might only put 500 people in Chrysler Hall or 400 people in Sandler Center. For those that have the ability to help the arts organizations financially, I think that’s going to be the greatest need for the next year. Being very conscious of the need that social services are going to have for the short term and long term, don’t forget the arts organizations because you want them to be there when we get on the other side. We want the opera to be there, the symphony and the stage company.

In what ways are you being proactive for re-opening? 
Our goal is that next April and May we can have something that resembles a normal Festival, but I’m telling the staff to be prepared that we can’t, and if we can’t, then how can we deliver content? Let’s say we had Candadian Brass coming, if they can’t play a concert at Sandler Center or Chrysler Hall, do we still bring them in and tape it and stream the concert? How do we present the arts to people if they can’t gather?

Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already? 
We’re full speed ahead in planning for next year. I’m probably 75% through booking next year’s Festival because I’ve had the time to do it and artists are hungry to work. So for us the question will be: when do we feel comfortable announcing it? We typically announce the season in mid- October. Are we going to feel comfortable doing it then, or are we going to wait a little bit?

Jason Isabel and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Williamsburg Live 2021 headliner

What do you hope to return to? What do you hope the future of the arts looks like? 
Well, I love what we do, so my hope is that, whether it’s 6 months from now or a year from now, that we’re back to where we were before. To me there’s nothing more exciting than being in the Sandler Center or Chrysler Hall or the Ferguson Center with a full house seeing Joshua Bell or Alvin Ailey or Kristin Chenoweth. The act of experiencing the arts with people is really, really powerful. I want to figure out how to remain relevant and healthy as an organization until we get back to that point, but I want to get back to that point where we can do it again.

What conversations do we need to be having right now? Are you seeing those happening? 
I think that we’ve all got to be talking to our elected officials. I know they’re dealing with incredibly important issues in terms of schools, social services that are immediate needs. But let’s not lose sight of how important the arts are in Hampton Roads. It’s a big part of our economy in terms of tourism and in terms of quality of life for everybody. I think we’ve got to be sensitive to what’s going on, but we can’t disappear because there are so many things pressing on the needs. If we do disappear, there are plenty of things that are going to fill the vacuum. In my circle of colleagues, we’re talking with our elected officials on a regular basis.

What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown? 
Being in a concert hall for a live performance. That’s the first thing I’m looking forward to. The second is going to a good restaurant and having a good meal and a good bottle of wine with friends. It’s a close second. As much as [my wife] Debbie’s been doing some great cooking, I miss my friends.

Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about? 
Sure! One of the things that was supposed to happen in the Festival is a Michaelangelo exhibit at MacArthur Center for three weeks during the spring. It’s these beautiful images, facsimiles from the Sistine Chapel. So, we have the exhibit; it’s in crates at MacArthur Center, and we’re hoping to open it for three weeks in August. MacArthur Center is reopened, so the plan is it gets installed the first week of August and will open either the second or third week of August for three weeks. We’re really excited about it! It’s really beautiful. It will give people a chance to get out. We’re working really closely with other museums on understanding how to operate a museum safely in terms of one-way paths, everything’s touchless. And I think regardless of what your religion is, it’s a little timely to go see something so beautiful. You can go there for a few minutes and maybe just contemplate it. So I’m looking forward to that.

Anything else you want to talk about? 
We’re very grateful for the way the community has stepped up, for us specifically, and for all the arts organizations, helping us through this difficult time. We want them to know that we’re doing everything we can to make good decisions and be there on the other side of this pandemic.

Where can people find you (for classes, donations, etc)?
Visit our webpage! Our team has done a really good job with what we call the Virtual Festival. We’re putting out a weekly e-blast of what’s going on during the Festival. We’re in the last month of our fiscal year, so we’ve got a pretty active campaign right now to close out the Annual Fund. Events that have been rescheduled are already on the website calendar. We’re also sharing information on social media. (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @VaArtsFest,  YouTube: @VaArtsFestival)

Turn on the Taps: Virtual Virginia International Tattoo Pandemic Edition

Words By Penny Neef
Images courtesy of Virginia Arts Festival

One of the highlights of the Virginia Arts Festival each year is the Virginia International Tattoo. I am not the most patriotic person, but there is nothing like this over the top, bagpipe music to the ceiling of the Scope, giant American flag waving salute, to make you feel like the USA has always been a great country.  

Scott Jackson and his mighty team put together a spectacular show each year. Military bands come to Norfolk from around the world. It is a cast of thousands. It takes a whole year to bring together all these talented musicians, singers, and dancers into a show that is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

Top Secret Drum Line at the 2016 Virginia International Tattoo

There is no traveling this year. There cannot be thousands of performers on the floor of the Scope Arena or thousands of people watching at the Scope. The Virginia International Tattoo live performances have been canceled, along with the rest of the Virginia Arts Festival for this spring.

This is still “Tattoo Week”. Like the rest of the world, the Virginia International Tattoo has gone virtual, all except the beer. You can still enjoy a Tattoo themed beer. More on that in a bit.

A drill team throws their rifles at the 2016 Virginia International Tattoo.

Through social media and your TV, here are a few of the ways you can experience the Virginia International Tattoo- all for free this year:

Thursday, April 30
Celebrate a salute to WW II veterans with the Opening Night Celebration
7:30pm on Facebook 

Friday, May 1
WHRO 15 will broadcast the 2016 Tattoo – check your local listings
8:30pm Preshow Watch Party on Facebook 
9:00pm 2016 Tattoo on WHRO

Saturday, May 2
Virtual Salute to the Greatest Generation – the Tattoo will honor WWII veterans with a special appearance by journalist Joe Galloway
10:00pm Watch Party on Facebook 

Sunday, May 3
March Off – The Parting Glass and Final March Off
5:00pm Watch Party on Facebook 

The Virginia International Tattoo also does a Special Audience Night each year for people with disabilities and special needs that might need some extra space or room to walk around during the show. Special Audience Night was inspired by Scott Jackson’s daughter, Samantha, who is autistic. Her favorite part of the show is always those hundreds of bagpipers. Jackson put together this video for Samantha and her friends.

Now about that beer – long before coronavirus rocked our world, VAF collaborated with Rip Rap Brewing Company to produce a beer in honor of the 2020 Virginia International Tattoo and the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.  Rip Rap has both a pick-up and delivery service, and says the beer’s “soft wheat and lightly toasted malt add subtle depth to this classic style”.  For more information about how you can toast to the Greatest Generation with a glass or two of 1945 Salute beer, click here

Rip Rap Brewing Company's 1945 Salute Beer.

Virginia Arts Festival Executive Director Rob Cross understands the need for social distancing during this time. He is disappointed that the VAF has had to cancel some of the world’s great artists this spring. “We wanted to offer our audiences the opportunity to share some past performances in their homes as they shelter in place. In this time, we need the joy and hope and inspiration the arts provide.” For a complete list of all the VAF’s virtual performances, go to their Virtual Connections page.

For a complete list of all the virtual Tattoo events this year, check out their facebook!

Virginia Arts Festival Postpones or Cancels Events Through May 4

Words by Penny Neef
Photo courtesy of the Virginia Arts Festival

There are so many feelings churning around my head.  You too? I am grateful for the health of my loved ones and the basic necessities of life.  I am happy that cell towers and WiFi are working. I am optimistic that most people will step up to the plate and do the right thing.  I am hopeful that our leaders will lead.

I’ve got those “other” feelings churning around up there too, but I’m trying to push them right out of my head and wash them right out of my hair by concentrating on the items in paragraph one.  Let’s all stick to paragraph one.  

Many events and performances have been cancelled or postponed.  Most venues for the arts have closed down. In fact, SevenVenues, Norfolk’s public assembly buildings including Chrysler Hall, Scope Arena and the Attucks Theatre have all temporarily shut the doors.  It made me realize what a vibrant arts community we have. If you lived in Supai, Arizona, your choices would be limited. The 208 residents of Supai have to make their own entertainment and art. That’s going to be our new normal for a while.

This is the time of year I look forward to Virginia Arts Festival. Each spring, there are hundreds of performances by artists from around the world in venues both big and small.  At the same time, VAF hosts educational outreach opportunities throughout Hampton Roads for students of all ages. Rob Cross and his amazing team of people at VAF spend the entire year curating the events and performers.  Bus-loads of people come from outside our area for the Virginia International Tattoo, one of the premier events of VAF. This year, let’s hope that we will be able to emerge from our social isolation to enjoy some of the scheduled performances for later this spring.

Virginia Arts Festival is working hard to postpone and reschedule events that were scheduled for March, April and May. Some have been rescheduled for next year’s VAF, some rescheduled for this fall, and some have had to be cancelled.  Here is a partial list of postponements and cancellations.  For a complete list, go to their message.

North Shore Point Downtown
James Mc Murtry – POSTPONED to September 18 in VAF Outdoor Courtyard
Originally scheduled for March 26

Attucks Jazz Club
Stephanie Nakasian, vocalist – POSTPONED to October 3
Attucks Theatre
Originally scheduled for April 4

Sing-a-long to Sound of Music – POSTPONED – date to be announced
Chrysler Hall
Originally scheduled for April 25

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – POSTPONED – date to be announced
Sandler Center for Performing Arts
Originally scheduled for April 29

Virginia International Tattoo – CANCELED
Scope Arena
Originally scheduled for April 30 – May 3

Norfolk NATO Festival – CANCELED
Downtown Norfolk
Originally scheduled for April 30 – May 2


The Virginia Arts Festival is offering several options for ticket exchanges and refunds.  Click here for all the details.

In the meantime, let’s hunker down, take care of ourselves and our loved ones.  If you can, reach out and help your neighbors in need. Enjoy the many options of performing and visual arts online.  Try and make your own art. Find that guitar that’s been stowed in the closet. Pull out those paintbrushes or just pick up a pencil.  Art soothes the soul. We could all use a little soothing about now.